Arm Options For Office Chairs: Making Sure You Make The Right Choice

If you look at chair manufacturers’ price books you will see that most chairs are offered without any arms at all. Why is this? There are occasions where this makes sense, more on that later.

What choices of arms are there?
Increasingly these days chairs come with adjustable arms enabling the user to set the position to suit their way of working and this makes good sense. Nonetheless, there are still a huge number of chairs sold with fixed arms. These are a permanent part of the chair and don't move and can be a hindrance.

What arms should you avoid?
You may just be lucky and find that fixed arms are the right height and shape for you. Frankly this isn't very likely, so choosing them is all a bit of a lottery. For this reason it’s always best to avoid fixed arms because they can often get in the way when you're working if their shape and position doesn’t suit your body. Given the choice between fixed and adjustable arms it’s always best to opt for adjustability, even the most basic versions are a big improvement on a rigid arm.

What features are available on adjustable arms and which should you go for?
Adjustable arms come in a wide variety of levels of sophistication. Entry-level versions usually just adjust in height and this is by far and away the most important feature. It means you can set the arm height to support your shoulders naturally and safely. So the good news is even the most basic adjustable arm will offer you major benefits.

From there you can get highly adjustable arms where the arm tops swivel inwards and outwards. This can be very useful for people with narrow shoulders as the arm width is often too wide for them.

Additionally some arm tops also slide backwards and forwards and this again can be handy for fine-tuning the arm supports. It’s particularly convenient if you like to work close to your desk because you can push them backwards so they aren't in the way yet still support your arms.

Some top end chairs allow the width of the arms to be adjusted making it easy to set them to suit your shoulder width, so your arms hang at a natural angle.

If offered it is always a good idea to opt for padded arm tops because prolonged use of hard plastic arms can create a lot of discomfort to the underside of your lower arms.

A few manufacturers take things a stage further and offer arms that can be completely moved out of the way. HÅG’s Futu chair allows you to quickly push the arms behind the back of the chair. With Neutral Posture’s swing arms it’s possible to rotate them by 180 degrees to achieve the same effect. Effectively your chair becomes armless.

When don't you need arms on an office chair?
As mentioned at the beginning of this article there are instances when an armless chair makes sense. Some people like to work close up to their desk and so for them the actual desktop takes the place of the chair arms. And if this is how you prefer to work then this makes good sense.

It’s all down to how you like to work and if you're not sure whether you want arms or not, why not decide later? Many chairs allow you to retrofit arms so you could start out by buying a chair without arms and see how you get on. If all goes well that’s good and if not buy a set of adjustable arms and add them later. Just make sure they can be fitted later as not all chairs allow this.

Let’s summarize the keys points I've covered in this article.
Chairs often include the option of no arm, fixed arms and adjustable arms
Avoid fixed arms where possible they're uncomfortable and inflexible
Adjustable arms come in varying levels of sophistication to suit how you work
Armless chairs can be good for people who like working close up to their desk
If you pick the right model you can try armless first and add arms later

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Why A Good Ergonomic Office Chair Is Like GPS In The Office

Imagine you're on a long drive to a city you’ve never visited before. You're on a tight deadline and you can’t afford to be late or make any wrong turns and you don’t need the pressure of driving against the clock. The natural thing to do of course would be to set up your GPS device before leaving and just relax as it guides you and takes the strain. No need to worry about what to do or where to go because your faithful GPS has it all covered, all you need to do is fuel up and steer your vehicle.

Instead what if you only had a compass to guide you? Even if it was fixed to the dash you would need to keep looking to make sure you were headed in the right direction. And with all the twists and turns in the roads it probably wouldn’t be very practical at all.

A good ergonomic office chair is a bit like GPS for the office
When you have a quality ergonomic chair it helps take the strain of those long days in the office. You have an important project to complete it’s probably the best part of 10 hours work. However the very tight deadline means you have to get it all wrapped up in 8 hours if at all possible.

The last thing you need is to be uncomfortable and constantly moving and shifting as you struggle to relax and concentrate on the task ahead.

With the right chair you're in safe hands because many modern chairs have self-adjusting features. They sense the way you are sitting and provide continuous support to make sure your body maintains a healthy posture throughout the day.

In fact as you become absorbed in the task at hand you'll likely barely notice your chair as you concentrate on getting everything completed.

A bad office chair is more like a compass
If you have a poor quality office chair that tight deadline is going to seem much more like making that road trip with a compass. It’s probably going to be OK for the first half hour, or so. And yet as the day wears on it starts leaving you feeling worn out.

Maybe the foam in the seat and back padding has flattened with continual use and no longer provides good comfort and support. Or the back seems to have a mind of its own, when you recline to relax for a moment.

And if only those arms adjusted, they always seem to get in the way and the hard plastic tops are killing your lower arms.

As the project deadline approaches you become more and more pressured as you begin to get further behind.

What sort of features makes good ergonomic office chairs different?
For a start they are likely to have top quality foams which bounce back to shape even after years of use. And in the case of a chair like Herman Miller’s Embody the 4 ply support suspension makes it feel like you are floating rather than sitting.

A lot of chairs have automatic adjusting recline functions, so as you lean back the chair senses your weight and where you are applying pressure and automatically compensates giving proper back support. A good example of this is HÅG’s Futu chair which even includes some fine tuning if required, however most will find the standard auto adjuster fine.

Adjustable arms can help make the work experience much more enjoyable, especially the more flexible ones which don’t just alter in height. They also adjust in width, angle and front to back as well, making it easy to get perfect arm comfort.

Here's where you can find a quick summary of Herman Miller chairs as well as other quality office chairs from a variety of different manufacturers to help you work long hours without distraction.

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The Office Chair Revolution: How Modern Ideas And Materials Are Turning Tradition On Its Head

In my previous post I took a look at Herman Miller’s new Sayl chair with its suspension back inspired by the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Rise Of The Open Cell Back

Sayl Chair

Sayl Chair Back Detail

The true sophistication of the chair’s back isn't that obvious although it looks stylish and modern. At first glance the back just appears to be an open plastic mesh, which whilst true, belies its actual capabilities.

Every part of the complex web-like structure has been precision designed to provide just the right amount of comfort and support so users don’t suffer fatigue or discomfort.

Closer examination shows the open web framing uses different thicknesses of material and cell shapes to give you support where it’s most needed while at the same time allowing freedom of movement. As it’s frameless you never feel the constraints of hard edges yet know your back and spine are being taken care of.

Generation chair back

Generation Chair Back

When Formway Design came up with the idea for Knoll’s Generation chair it too wanted to produce a chair offering great comfort as well as unrestrained movement. It also opted for an open cell back and yet it’s quite different in design to the Sayl, being partially double skinned in the middle.

It’s largely due to creative thinking and modern materials that these chairs have been introduced. In fact, it’s likely 10 years ago neither product would have been feasible.

Multiple Layer Mesh

Liberty Mesh Back

Liberty Mesh Back Detail

Another interesting development in chair back design is the advanced use of materials. Take Humanscale’s Liberty chair with its form-sensing technology. It’s made up from 3 panels of mesh cleverly sewn together to create a supportive contoured shape.

Unlike single panel mesh it doesn’t just sag as body weight is applied, instead it displaces and provides proper support and comfort.

    

Self-Adjusting Chairs
The other big change in recent years is the trend towards self-adjusting chairs. This largely eliminates the need to pull levers and turn knobs as these chairs recognize user movement and respond accordingly.

HÅG’s Futu chair with its inBalance mechanism is a good example of this type of chair. It’s designed to carefully and comfortably support user movement and for those who like to tweak things it has a simple 5 step lever for fine tuning. For most though this isn't necessary and it’s a question of sit and forget.

What Are The Common Threads In Modern Office Chair Design?
It’s fascinating to see the different innovative ideas designers create and although the result is a diverse range of products there are certain fundamental things they are all working towards.

Taking a look at office seat design over the past 10 years or so the trend is towards:

  • Greater comfort, support and overall user experience
  • Huge advances in environmentally friendly materials
  • Simpler products, automating functions where possible
  • Fewer components and overall reduction in the weight of the end product
  • Innovative use of modern materials, often never previously used in chairs

Future Trends
Overall there has been a significant improvement in office chair design in recent years and it’s likely that this will continue as manufacturers attempt to keep up with each other.

It’s also true to say that these radical new designs have all come from major players in the office furniture industry. This is unlikely to change as the cost of developing products from scratch can run into millions of dollars and so puts it beyond the reach of all but the largest in the industry.

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Is Your Office Chair Eco Friendly? How You Can Help The Environment

On the face of it office chairs don't appear to be the most eco friendly products. This is certainly true of mass produced budget office seats where the manufacturer's and supplier’s energy is spent working out how they can reduce costs.

They are much more concerned with getting products to fit a price bracket and more often than not this means cutting corners.

Such products tend to contain nasty foams, glues, PVC and chrome or involve processes known to be highly environmentally unfriendly and low cost and so attractive to them.

And yet there are a number of highly responsible manufacturers who go to great lengths to make their chairs as eco friendly as possible.

A good example is HÅG of Norway who takes the environment very seriously and always produces comprehensive data on the eco friendliness its products.

Take its Futu chair which only uses 7 different materials, not only that 33% come from recycled materials and the finished product is 97% recyclable.

The majority of its products are Greenguard and ISO 14025-EPD certified so you know that they are truly friendly as these certificates aren't issued lightly, it must do what it says on the box.

Herman Miller is another manufacturer who takes the environment seriously, its Embody chair uses 42% recycled materials and is 95% recyclable and carries a Greenguard certificate.

Humanscale is yet another company whose products are highly eco friendly both its Freedom and Liberty chairs are Greenguard certified and are at least 90% recyclable.

Hopefully this is a trend which responsible manufacturers will continue to support and make our world a better place to live in.

How Can You Tell If A Chair Is Eco Friendly?

Make sure that supplier’s claims are backed up with proof, qualifying products will carry certificates like:

You are unlikely to find qualifying chairs in low cost entry level products and this sector of the market won't change much unless forced to do so by legislation. The downside of becoming more environmentally aware is it costs more to do so, however by supporting such products you will be doing your bit to help planet earth.

And there is also another big benefit from doing so, you will find the majority of these chairs extremely comfortable and supportive in use and will give you many years of great service long after the initial outlay is forgotten.

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Why HÅG’s Award Winning Futu Chair Is Now Even Better: Five Great Modifications

Futu Chair

HÅG Futu Chair

The Futu chair from HÅG won a coveted red dot design award in March 2010 and has recently been further improved, these modifications make it an even better chair.

The seat foam is now a little softer than before giving better user comfort, however it is still a high quality foam which won’t flatten with use and is guaranteed for 10 years.

Additionally the foam’s contour has been redesigned and is now a little less convex in shape making it more comfortable in use.

Another great addition is the option to include soft padding to the tops of the armpads. This small improvement will be a welcome option if you find normal armrests cause pain to the underside of your arms.

The self adjusting inBalance mechanism which automatically controls the chair’s action in harmony with the user’s body movement has been tweaked too.

It’s noticeably smoother in use and those who like to lock their seat in a preset position will find the lock function is much easier to control now.

Finally, the available upholstery fabrics have been increased to give considerably more choice of finishes.

HÅG also takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously, the chair is made from 50% recycled materials and some 97% of the chair is recyclable.

There’s an interesting article in this month’s issue of Interiors Monthly about HÅG’s Futu chair, you can find the article in the September issue of Interiors Monthly.

Here's where you can read a review of the Futu chair.

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How Modern Task Chair Design Leaves Traditional Models in the Dust

Office chair design has improved in leaps and bounds in the past 20 years, and yet there are still a huge amount of task chairs being made today built around the same old technology that existed 30 years ago.

Why is this? A lot of it has to do with the cost of tooling to make new components. It just costs a lot of money to create a new chair from the ground up.

It’s far easier to take what already exists and just tweak its appearance a little, rather like an automobile design where cars get facelifts every couple of years to prolong the life of a model.

Exactly the same thing happens with chairs. The basic guts of the thing, the bits you don’t see, stay the same. However, by reshaping the seat and back and maybe changing the base design, it’s possible to make the old appear new.

Fortunately, some companies are prepared to start with a blank sheet of paper and to do something radically different. Not surprising these tend to be the bigger players in the market who have the necessary resources and have a genuine desire to produce a substantially different and innovative chair.

Typically these manufacturers will do extensive market research into what problems users face and then go about creating a solution.

One of the big trends in recent years has been the launch of much simpler chairs, where the user just adjusts the height and maybe a couple of other things.

The chair has an inbuilt ability to anticipate what the user is doing by sensing their body movements as it self-adjusts and supports the user comfortably during the working day.

This is largely a good thing, as the majority of people don’t want to fiddle with loads of levers and buttons. Examples of these types of chairs include the HÅG Futu, Knoll’s Generation, and HumanScale’s Freedom and Liberty chairs.

Other manufacturers like Herman Miller and Steelcase prefer to create new models based on new technology and yet still let the user have lots of control over the settings.

Modern products like the Embody from Herman Miller, and the Think and Leap from Steelcase allow more user adjustment.

The one big downside with all of these new innovations comes down to cost. All that expensive design and tooling has to be paid for and as a result, chairs like these tend to start around the $500 mark.

This is why old, outdated seat design continues to be commonplace. Most of the components used in old-style seating can simply be bought off the shelf from component manufacturers who are geared up to turn out the various mechanisms and parts cheaply and quickly.

This results in a gulf in prices between old style models and newer ground breaking chairs, and once you try out one of these new breed of chairs and discover how superior they are, you will truly understand why they leave the same-old, same-old in the dust.

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Is Your Office Chair Like Sitting In A Boat?

A lot of office chairs are just plain big and petite and slim built people find them almost impossible to get comfortable in, for some it's like having to wear size 10 shoes when you real size is a 6, not very practical.

So why does this happen? Well there are 2 reasons, first people frequently buy chairs on looks and more often than not big looks good, it carries a sense of importance.

Second manufacturers try and produce seats fitting the widest spectrum of users and consequently usually make things bigger rather than smaller. I suppose it makes some sense, a small framed user can always fit into a big chair, whereas a large framed person may not be able to sit in a small chair.

You should never buy a chair which looks big and imposing unless you are the right build for such a seat. As a rule of thumb a suitable office chair should leave around an inch at each side of the seat. So, simply measure the distance across the top of your thighs when sitting and then check it against the seat width and make sure it is a good fit for you.

Some of the better quality seating manufacturers recognize the need for producing chairs specifically designed for a petite office chair user and lighter framed people.

So, if you need a more compact sized seat take a look at HÅG H04, HÅG Futu, Aeron or a Neutral Posture 5000 series as these should work well for you.

In the next post I will take a look at seating problems big and tall users face and how to resolve them.

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